The Thai islands are often lumped into one endless, sunny, party-town. Images of white sand, blue seas, and palm trees come to mind, as do beer, debauchery, and beaches filled with endless crowds.
The oft-overlooked and misunderstood Ko Lanta, just a couple of hours away from Krabi airport by a combination of car and ferry, or by speedboat from the effervescent Phuket, defies all those stereotypes.
Ko Lanta is really made up of two islands – Ko Lanta Noi and Ko Lanta Yai. Noi means small, and those who come from Krabi have to take a car ferry to the island and drive across it in a matter of minutes, then board a second car ferry which will bring you to Ko Lanta Yai. Yai – the bigger counterpart- is about 6km wide and 30km long, and that’s where a discerning tourist can stay.
Small But Bustling Thai Island
Ko Lanta’s population is only upwards of 10,000. The island is equipped to deal with the crowds, yet the crowds have yet to find their way there. There are countless bars, restaurants (from high-end to home-run), cafes (anything from a flat white to gelato can be found on the island), a few cooking schools, and hotels and accommodation for every budget. The scene is modern enough to have all the amenities you may need, yet rustic enough for beaches to be one long, golden, empty stretch.
Most visitors stay on Long Beach or Klong Dao, close to the northern tip of the island where the ferry arrives and departs. The area is lively without being crowded, and incredibly laid back despite the numerous beachfront bars and restaurants that dot the coast. If you want beaches that are even more isolated, check out the south part of the island, where the beaches are whiter and monkeys are aplenty!
Fresh Seafood on the Cheap in Thailand
Those why love fresh seafood and want to have it on waterfront restaurants on stilts should stay near the town of Sala Dan, or at least visit once during your stay. Dozens of seafood restaurants form a promenade, and just $10 USD per person is sufficient for a good meal and a beer. Set aside a little more money if you’re planning to go all out and splurge, but it shouldn’t cost you more than $20 USD. Wine is a little costly here, so be prepared to pay almost the same price as in Western countries for a single glass.
Island-Hopping in Thailand
There are several islands nearby that are inhabited, and even more renowned for their beauty. Divers and avid snorkelers make their way there to see manta rays, reef sharks, and turtles. Kok Rok, known for emerald waters and fine white sand, is a great way to spend a lazy afternoon sunbathing. Komodo dragons, a huge but harmless reptile, are commonly spotted here. Ko Haa is also a hot favourite for those who like to dive deep and get a look good at the wondrous marine life under the water. If not for Ko Lanta, it would mean an extremely long and tiresome boat ride to get to these islands.
Animal Lovers in Thailand
If you find yourself missing Fido or Kitty at home, check out Ko Lanta Animal Welfare Centre. A few minutes away from Long Beach by tuktuk, the unassuming centre is incredibly well run and a great place to spend a couple of hours at.
There are tours around the compound that start on the hour from 9am to 4pm. Volunteers are incredibly fun and knowledgeable. The centre gets about 100 long term volunteers per year, who live there and help with day to day operations, but even if you have just one afternoon free, you are welcome to visit.
Afterwards, you may take a dog or two out for a walk on the beach or to a nearby stream. Those who wish to help the centre, which receives no government funding, can also make a donation, purchase some merchandise, or bring pet supplies as gifts. To date, the center has sterilized and treated over 8000 animals.
Massage Haven in Thailand
For just 300 THB or less than 10 USD, you can get a relaxing foot massage or a good, hard, bone-twistin’ traditional Thai massage. Massage parlors can be found on every corner, and boy do the Thai masseuses know their stuff!
After trying out several places, a personal favorite is still Serenity Massage and Spa. They are slightly costlier than the other places at 350 THB per hour, but the clean and peaceful environment, as well as the sea view balcony to sip tea and relax on after the massage, is well worth the little extra money.
Thai Food, with Love
If you’ve always been a fan of the sweet, spicy Thai cuisine, visit the highly rated Time For Lime cooking school on the island. Imagine spending hours on your feet slaving away in the kitchen… and then sitting down to dish after dish of Thai food you made from scratch. Throw in their signature lemongrass or chilli margarita and there is no better way to spend your evening.
Time for Lime also doubles as a restaurant. Those who don’t have time to pick up Thai cooking or want a really sloth-like holiday can just order from their tasting menu. You get to try six tapas-sized dishes that add up to become a good meal, and try out a variety of Thai dishes along the way.
Here, I discovered the ‘Panang curry’, a milky, orange curry which was so good that I ordered it again and again during the rest of my trip in Thailand.
If You Go to Thailand
Where to stay in Ko Lanta: Ko Lanta Twin Lotus and Spa resort, with a beautiful infinity pool http://www.twinlotusresort.com/
How to get to Ko Lanta: http://lanta.krabi.info/how-to-get-lanta.htm
To pre-book a private car in Ko Lanta: http://www.kohlantataxi.com/
Useful map of Ko Lanta’s main regions http://www.lonelyplanet.com/maps/asia/thailand/ko-lanta/map_of_ko-lanta.jpg
Author Bio: Ling Xin is from Singapore, and likes cooking, reading and rehoming animals. A former print and online journalist, she now spends her time at asiarooms.com/en/community, where she travels and writes about her experiences. Also find her on twitter at @ohhellosailor.